Issue cross-pressures and electoral behavior in Western Europe

QingQian He

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Facing changes and instability in electoral behavior across Western Europe, traditional party identification and social cleavages performed increasingly poorly in understanding and explaining the way in which voters made their voting choices. On the one hand, the increasing number of people who were not partisan, or who had a loose link to a particular social group, indicated that, on the basis of this information, voting behavior could be predicted much less accurately. On the other hand, long-term factors such as party identification and social group attachments could tell us a great deal about why one group of citizens behaved in a given way while another group of citizens behaved differently in the same election. However, it could tell us little about why some voters’ behavior varied across different elections. This indicated that we must turn to other factors, especially short-term variables, in order to have a better understanding of electoral behavior in contemporary advanced democracies. One possibility was to focus on issue cross-pressures. However, comparatively few studies have developed a theory and explored the consequences of cross-pressures emerging from holding contradictory voting predispositions based on various issues.
This thesis developed a theory of issue cross-pressures which clarified: What are issue cross-pressures? What are the preconditions for citizens to experience issue cross-pressures? How do individuals’ issue cross-pressures arise? How do issue cross-pressures influence citizens’ different kinds of electoral behavior? How should issue cross-pressures be measured? It defined issue cross-pressures as cross-pressures resulted from holding policy preferences across various issues that pushed one in different political directions. For citizens to experience issue cross-pressures, they should care about at least two different issues and their opinions on those issues should not be comprehensively constricted by a unidimensional ideology. Citizens’ awareness of issue cross-pressures could come about because of conflicts between/among core values or in pursuing different self-benefits. When citizens experienced issue cross-pressures, in order to make a voting decision they would employ different methods to reconcile or alleviate their cross-pressures, including: re-evaluating their stances on some issues, looking for additional attributes related to the parties, and reducing the importance of some issues. This process in turn influenced citizens’ various kinds of electoral behavior, including issue voting, turnout, vote switching, and time of voting decision. The empirical part found that issue cross-pressures moderate the role of issues in citizens' voting choice, decrease citizens' motivation to go out to vote, increase citizens' vote switching between two elections at least for those who do not have party identificaton but with higher cognitive ability, delay citizens' time of voting decision.
This dissertation implied that, (a) although the impact of issues on citizens’ voting choices was not as great as expected, the important role of issues in electoral politics was still remarkable and must not be neglected; (b) modernization and cognitive mobilization might on the one hand make citizens more likely to make a decision independently of political elites and parties, which leads to an increase in issue voting; while on the other hand modernization and cognitive mobilization might also make citizens more likely to realize that their positions on different issues point to different parties, which could cause them to experience more issue cross-pressures. This might in turn decrease the overall level of issue voting, which goes against the optimistic view of the consequences of modernization and cognitive mobilization; (c) the decreasing stability in determinants and patterns of voting behavior was at least partially a result of a transformation in the nature of the demand side of politics. As such, the prospects for contemporary Western democracy were not as pessimistic as de-politicization theses have suggested. However, this did not mean that contemporary Western democracy faced no challenges. Given that a large group of issue cross-pressured citizens have not been fully captured by established parties across Western European countries, small parties would get a chance to develop and new parties would have an opportunity to emerge. Therefore, party systems in contemporary Western democracies might become unstable in the foreseeable future.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Aarts, Kees, Supervisor
  • Rosema, Martin, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date29 Nov 2017
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-4433-7
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2017


  • Electoral behaviour
  • Issue cross-pressures
  • Issue Voting
  • Turnout
  • Time of voting decision
  • Vote switching
  • Western Europe


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